Press release on new research supports higher foundation level to improve student performance
A broad-based civic coalition Tuesday submitted new research to a state advisory panel-research that argues for a significant increase in the guaranteed "foundation level" of dollars needed to adequately educate a child in Illinois public schools.
Leaders of the Network 21: Quality Schools and Stronger Communities coalition presented highlights of ongoing research to the state's Education Funding Advisory Board (EFAB), which advises the governor and the legislature on the adequacy of state aid to public education. Since the current foundation level expires at the end of this school year, EFAB must recommend by January 1 a foundation level for 2002 needed to support high academic performance.
To assist in that task, earlier this year, Network 21 asked Augenblick & Myers, a nationally-recognized, Denver-based education consulting firm, to examine factors associated with quality education, and in particular, to gauge the minimum level of per-pupil spending the state ought to guarantee -- no matter how lacking a school district might be in local property tax resources.
A&M analyzed spending levels and standardized test results for all 894 school districts across the state. It also sought an answer to this fundamental question: What is the minimum level of per-pupil spending required so that every district can be expected to have at least two-thirds of its pupils performing at or above state achievement norms?
Though the full report is not yet complete, A&M's preliminary finding demonstrates that the basic per-pupil expenditure for elementary districts achieving these results would have to be increased to approximately $5,200, significantly over the current $4,425 level.
The new data strongly validate Network 21's core belief that money does matter in the quest for better school performance; and that incremental, $100 per year or even cost-of-living increases in state support will not, by themselves, take us where we need to go.
To reach that goal-the foundation level at which even property-poor school districts have the wherewithal needed to prepare children for a knowledge-based future-will require fundamental, structural change in the way Illinois funds public education and a long-term view. Many Network 21 members worked hard to achieve this in 1997, succeeding in establishing the state's first foundation level and coming close to shifting the reliance of school funding away from the property tax.
"Now is the time to lay the groundwork for the next debate," said MarySue Barrett, president of the Metropolitan Planning Council, one of the conveners of Network 21. "We caution EFAB that a modest increase in the foundation level should be considered only a holding action, a strategic pause, until permanent reform can again be advanced."
In the meantime, the Board's attention is invited to several highlights from the Augenblick & Myers research. It represents a comprehensive attempt to correlate funding and performance among all the state's unit, elementary and high school districts. A&M found the following common characteristics:
- School districts that spend more per-pupil are more likely to have higher percentages of students meeting standards than school districts that spend less.
- Wealthier districts have lower teacher/pupil ratios than less-wealthy districts.
- Wealthier districts, on average, are able to impose lower tax rates than do less-wealthy districts.
- The method by which the state computes "poverty grants" to districts with specified percentages of low-income students should be modified so as to help districts with fewer than 20 percent low-income pupils and to provide more help to districts with over 60 percent.
The A&M methodology suggest a range of foundation levels based on cost-efficiency and education results, giving policyholders a wide menu of options for determining the cost of a quality education.
Network 21 was formed earlier this year by representatives of business, education, labor and civil rights groups to develop and achieve a consensus-based plan to improve education for all Illinois children.
Network 21 is working to
- Ensure that the foundation level is sufficient to provide a quality education for every student in Illinois.
- Increase the state's share of public school funding.
- Support funding options that decrease reliance on local property taxes.
- Enhance quality and preserve local decisions on school funding.
- Support quality reforms that improve education results for all children.
- Support policies that improve access and use of technology in all public schools.